Navigating Company Politics

Everyone has at sometime in their career be exposed to some sort of company politics. However, to be successful in any organization, you need to be able to successfully navigate company politics, which is why in this post I will try to provide you with a roadmap that you can use to help steer through the fog and grow stronger in this area.

Understanding the Company

When I was recently reading a blog post from from John Sonmez he mentioned something that really struck a cord with me. He said "...you need to figure out who has authority and who is the actual leader of the team — often not the same person" I have seen this in my career all to often! From my experience there is typically a person that has a large amount of influence in the department or organization and the figure in authority will often take direction from that person, for better or worse.

People who hold a high degree of respect or are mentors and champions to other people also hold a great deal of influence to the people within the team or organization. You job as a leader would be to identify these people and see what level of influence they have in the company. By doing this, you will be better able to navigate and understand how decisions are being made in the organization as well as being able to use it for your teams benefit as well.

Understanding Relationships

Once you have identified the influencers of the organization the next task would be to understand the social networks amongst the teams. You will often find that there are cliques that have formed within a team. These cliques may evolve naturally overtime as friendships between the people become stronger, or it may be that people have a large amount of respect for the influencer in the group.

You will also usually find that some people have interpersonal issues with each other and they often have a great deal of difficulty getting along. Over time, this can really start to breed hatred between teams as the hatred for people will spread through the team, especially if they are an influencer. What yo can try to do is attempt to help them find a common ground where they can at least have some form of respect, typically by talking to each other and not via a third party. They probably will never become friends but by making each ones boundaries known they will at least be able to work with each other.

Build Relationships

Now that you have figured out who the influencers in the organization are as well as the relationships that exist, you job is to now start to build the your social network accordingly. You shouldn't limit it to people who are your peers, but also include others whom hold a large amount of formal, and informal, power within the organization.

You should always try build your relationships by earning trust and respect and not "false flattery", as it may work for you in the short term, but in the long term you will get bitten. You also need to be aware of not favouring one group of people over another as you don't want people to see you part of a clique as you are trying to to build bridges of trust between the various groups. If you do build these bridges you will start to have a better understanding of the pulse of the organization, due to all the different teams providing you with important information.

Listen

I cannot stress how important this aspect is in being a great leader. Great listeners are great leaders and when I mean listen, I mean really listen to the person to try get an understanding of where they are coming from. You will find that by just doing this you can learn a lot more than you would have by speaking. There is a quote from Bernard Baruch, which I really like, that goes as follows:

Most of the successful people I've known are the ones who do more listening than talking

Take the time to listen, you will find that at the end of the day people will start to like and trust you more by just doing this.

Promote Your Team

With your relationships now formed, you can use it to promote your team positively to them. In doing this, you can build trust by making the achievements of the team visible. Always look for opportunities to make your team shine!. Once your team becomes know for excellence, they will start to attract more opportunities which will allow to excel even more, thereby creating a snowball effect.

"Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Even Closer"

From my observations, people typically want to avoid any form conflict and only get involved unless it is really necessary. You may try to do this and avoid office politics where ever possible, but a better approach is to be courteous to the people causing the issues and try to get to know them better. The reason for this is that you will start to understand what the motives are behind their actions and what goals they are trying to achieve. Once you have this knowledge, you can use it to counter and politics that may arise.

Personal Tips

Besides the above approaches, there are some smaller things you can do to help negative politics from spreading.

  • Gossip
    Don't help spread rumours without first trying to see how much credibility they actually have.

  • Integrity
    Always try stay professional and have the organizations best interests at heart.

  • Positivity
    Don't go around whining and complaining about any issues. Instead, try find the positive in the negatives and keep the team spirit up.

  • Assertive
    Always try to be assertive and not aggressive. Also, when you are passive people will start to lose faith in you as a leader.

Company politics have almost become a part of life, so understanding the dynamics will help you achieve your goals without compromising others in the process. That is it for this post, if you have any comments just leave them in the section below.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa